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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Yet another jumble of notions for the month.

Comics

I’ve been burning my way through past episodes of The TradeWaiters, a podcast where a group of Canadian web comic artists get together to comic books. The hosts really get into the more technical aspects of draftsmanship, paneling, page and character design, colouring, and lettering, which have all helped deepen my appreciation for the mechanics of visual storytelling. I just don’t linger on the art when I’m reading comics, something I always feel is a bit of a disservice to the time and effort that goes into producing these works, since I can get through something that took years to create in a matter of hours. My thoughts on that are starting to change—the strength of comics is imparting a huge amount of narrative information in a small amount of space, and getting so much meaning at a glance is exactly what makes the medium uniquely powerful for storytelling when in the right hands. (more…)

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happy-new-year-1899-2blog

So little of 2017 left, but just enough time to post our year in review! We discuss media we enjoyed this year, whether it was objectively good or not, including the University of Alberta murder-mystery-but-not-really-a-murder-mystery The Next Margaret, Haruki Murakami’s slow melancholy, Nausicaä  of the Valley of the Wind (again!), Roger Zelazny’s fiction, and more.

Download the Podcast (archive.org page)

Marie’s blog

Cory’s blog

Source of our theme song

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Olivier Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist: Because I do fan art now, which brings me that much closer to becoming a monster.

I finished the last volume of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist yesterday. It’s a justly famous and popular comic with endearing characters and some really exceptional pacing—I’d compare the way the panels flow to Jeff Smith’s Bone—but what really struck me was the effortless way Arakawa blended fantasy elements into an early twentieth century industrial setting. While the alchemy of the series is undoubtedly magic, the approach is a scientific one, and outbursts of the fantastic fit perfectly alongside automobiles and rifles.

The visual aesthetic of Fullmetal Alchemist broadly aligns with the various retro-futuristic “punk” subgenres of science fiction and fantasy that boiled up in the 1980s but seem to have solidified and become more of a presence in the 2000s. The terminology began with cyberpunk but has come to mean something different, and segmented to a laughable extent. Cyberpunk was the marriage of high technology with the grimy underclass world of punk rock; steampunk was quite literally a joke word to describe the marriage of old steam technology with the upper crust world of Victorian nobles. Now we have dieselpunk, decopunk, clockpunk, which basically mean re-imaginings of pulp adventure genres from post-Enlightenment eras that operate (more or less) within the confines of that era’s technologies. While potentially fascinating, in practice science fiction and fantasy that embraces the label in North America and Britain has, I’ve found, veered towards confused pastiche and don’t reach a very wide audience.

For whatever reason, the early twentieth century in Europe and America has produced far more appealing visions from East Asia. Fullmetal Alchemist takes names, historical cues, and architecture from central Europe in the 1920s/30s. A more useful point of comparison is the anime Last Exile, which operates on the visual level of dieselpunk’s ideal: giant airships coupled with graceful planes straight out of the interwar years, the brown-and-grey palettes of military and flight uniforms in the era. This type of industrial fantasy has spread to a much greater degree in east Asia than the “punks” of western sf, which is still a largely niche genre that uses the “punk” label to proclaim its own perceived special-ness. It seems every other cover of a pulp novel or comic book or animated series out of Japan has gears and black smoke and heavy machinery, that well-regarded classics like Castle in the Sky create an inextricable link between the feeling of magic and wonder with early twentieth century machinery.

The inspirations for the look are similar but the tradition and the deployment of that look are different. That might be why my comparison here isn’t all that useful; the style of industrial fantasy in East Asia appeals to me much more than what I’ve seen out of most of the “punks” in Anglophone sf, but they are coming from different (more than a geographic sense) places. Something about the anglophone sf tradition makes bringing the same elements together seem awkward where in Fullmetal Alchemist they seem the natural thing in the world to combine. These works, while on a surface level falling into the same category, evoke a very different reaction from me that lies rooted in their approach.

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Comic Dreams

When I was in elementary school, one of my many career aspirations was to become a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. I had comic idea after comic idea—Bernard the awful dog! Snakes, a comic about snakes! An epic fantasy comic with sword-wielding wolves! I wasted a great deal of paper on those.

Even at the time, my goal was unattainable. Opening up a newspaper these days reveals the exact same comic strips I read back then and wanted to imitate; in fact, many of the same comic strips that ran in the 1970s remain. A lot of these are legacy cartoons: Bill Keene’s son draws Family Circus, new B.C. strips come out of the estate, Charles Schultz is dead but Peanuts is a mainstay–at least no one has taken over drawing Peanuts because ack. The old strips have enough nostalgic cachet to continue whether the creator is alive or not, but newspapers have no incentive to pick up new strips and don’t have much room for them in the already-crowded comics pages.

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